With a few weeks to go until the Olympic Games begin, excitement and anticipation are building, not just in London, but across the whole of the UK. In addition to lifting the mood of the nation, the Olympics are expected to be a boost to the UK economy generally, and to the retail sector in particular, where all hands will need to be on deck to maximise profitability and provide a much needed commercial boost.
But what does this mean for retail sector employees and what do retailers need to think about to avoid any potential issues here?
For eight Sundays, between 22 July and 9 September, shops with floor space of over 280m2 will not be subject to the traditional “Sunday hours” trading restrictions. Increased footfall and longer trading hours will, almost certainly, lead to increased sales, for retailers in London particularly. Overall, it is estimated that the Olympics will boost retail sales by approximately £200 million (Source: Verdict Research). This can only be welcome news to retailers, yet the relaxation of trading hours could mean that their employees find themselves having to work more hours, and, perhaps, miss out on some of the excitement.
Furthermore, while office staff across the country may be afforded the perk of watching events within the workplace, or may be allowed to work flexibly to avoid peak London transport times, retail staff are less likely to reap these benefits if they are working on a shop floor with working hours dictated by store opening times.
Do employees have to agree to work additional hours?
If an employment contract does not include a right to require staff to work additional or alternative hours on a Sunday, or if the contracts do not have a right to vary working hours, employers may seek to implement a change to the contracts with employee consent. An employee can however refuse to give their consent to such a change. If they do refuse, employers could impose the changes unilaterally, but this may risk claims of constructive unfair dismissal.
In addition, employers will need to ensure that any unilateral changes do not discriminate against particular protected groups of the workforce, for example, on the grounds of religion or belief, or sex.
Employers also need to avoid inadvertenty breaching the maximum 48-hour working week under the Working Time Regulations 1998, or else seek employees’ written consent that they will opt out of the maximum working week.
Managing employees during the Games
If employers allow employees to take time off to watch and/or attend events during the Olympics, they should be careful not to set a precedent for all future events. If employees are allowed to watch the mens’ 100m final during working hours, would this create an expectation amongst the workforce that they should be able to watch other major events in working hours, for example, the Wimbledon final or football World Cup?
By putting a clear and effective Olympics policy in place, employers can avoid creating such an expectation. Any such policy should state that arrangements surrounding the Olympics this year are exceptional because London is the host, and the Olympics and Paralympics are unique events.
A supportive and flexible attitude is key
The London Olympic Games are undoubtedly going to boost morale and create a sense of excitement throughout the country, while the increased footfall on London’s high streets in particular, is likely to increase retail sector spending and bring good news for retailers. However, it’s important for all retailers to keep the well-being of their staff in the front of their minds throughout the Games. While it may not be possible to meet every employee request, retailers must look to be supportive of any concerns staff have around working long hours or travelling at busy periods, and to ensure that where possible, they’re able to join the rest of the country in celebrating this unique sporting, cultural and historical event.